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Records of the Imperial Russian Consulates in the United States, 1862-1922
By Arlene Jennings. CG

Under the Tsar’s government, Russia maintained consulates in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Honolulu, Seattle and Portland, Oregon. The consulates served emigrants who were still subjects of the Tsar in their dealings with Russia, and Russian subjects in their dealings with the United States government. If you are researching emigrants from Russia, the microfilms of the consular records may provide a very rich resource. Specifically, records most pertinent to genealogical research for Portland are for the period 1883-1901; for Philadelphia 1897-1928; for New York 1903-1926; for Chicago 1906-1920; for San Francisco 1852-1924; for Honolulu 1859-1911; and for Seattle (and an earlier consulate at Nome, Alaska) 1887-1928.1

The National Archives in Pittsfield (NRAP) is the only regional archive that holds the film for all consulates. Other regional locations have the film for the city in their region only.

How did these materials come to be in the possession of the National Archives? Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the fall of the Tsar’s government, the Consuls remained loyal to the Tsar and continued to provide their services financed by the US government. When the consulates eventually closed, their records were sent to the former Russian Embassy in Washington. They were removed shortly before the United States gave recognition to the government of the Soviet Union in 1933 and were transferred to the National Archives in 1949. In 1990 the original records were returned to the Soviet Union.2

Prior to this transfer however, while the originals were held by the National Archives, the Jewish Genealogical Society of Greater Washington created a surname index for the records linking them to the numbers on the boxes in which they were stored. And the Genealogical Society of Utah filmed the documents. Finally a table showing the correspondence between box number and microfilm roll number was created.3 The documents are on 180 rolls of microfilm, and NRAP has the index on microfiche in Daitch-Motokoff soundex code.

The content of the files which have greatest value to genealogists include nationality certificates, passport and visa applications and correspondence, passports, correspondence on matters of inheritance, Red Cross reports on missing persons, financial records including money transfers to relatives still in Russia, correspondence of emigrants seeking family members still in Russia; questions of military service; and business dealings of emigrants.

At NRAP there is a finding aid, “Using the Records of the Imperial Russian Consulates (M1846)”. It is in a white loose-leaf binder. You will find in it the tools you will need for the search process.

To search for a surname in the Russian Consular records you must first convert the name to the Daitch-Mokotoff 6 digit soundex code for Eastern European names. This system is significantly more complex than the National Archives system, but you can automatically convert name to code at the Jewish Genealogy website <>. It is bookmarked on the NRAP computer available to researchers. If you wish to perform the procedure manually it is explained in the finding aid.

When you locate a name copy all information given: Column A Surname; Column B Given names, excluding patronymics, maiden names in parentheses (an asterisk after a woman’s surname indicates it is a maiden name); Column C Residence (of the person at the time the record was created); Column D Consulate & Box Number; Columns E, I Other information on internal location of documents.

The next step is to use the finding aid, specifically the included Pamphlet Describing M1486 to determine the microfilm roll number from the Consulate and Box Number. Additionally the Pamphlet will provide information about the types of materials available from the consulate that concerns you. Since much of the content in the actual records is in Russian that information may help to make a preliminary assessment of how useful the records will be.

Once you have the microfilm in hand, be aware that patience will be critical. The records are not easy to use, but the rewards can be enormous.



  1. Pamphlet Describing M1486: Records of Imperial Russian Consulates in the United States, 1862-1922 (Washington: NARA, 1992).

  2. Ibid.

  3. Sallyann Amdur Sack and Suzan Fisher Wynne, The Russian Consular Records Index and Catalog (New York: Garland, 1987).



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Last revised 05/17/2006